Thursday, January 14, 2021

Government’s preference for China’s vaccine?


Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

While listening to the senate hearing on the national government’s roundabout procurement of the vaccine against COVID-19, one was wont to exclaim in exasperation, “Napakasimpleng  bagay ginagawang kumplikado.” A simple thing made so complicated.

Senators present (virtually and physically) wondered in unison why the cash-challenged national government would not allow the private sector and local governments units (LGUs) to procure, on their own, vaccines for their constituents and sectors. Why prevent them from taking load off the national government?  Were the tripartite agreements that LGUs in the National Capital Region had already signed for their vaccine orders from pharmaceutical companies not acceptable?

Sen. Franklin Drilon asked Food and Drug Administration (FDA) head Eric Domingo, “Do you want to play God?” To which the latter replied: “No, we just have to watch closely the people we’ll be vaccinating.” Is that saying that the LGUs and private sectors are not up to the task?

Getting the vaccines to the end recipient is not a breeze. Consider the ordering process, shipping from abroad, preservation of the vaccine below freezing point, transporting to remote places, the whos, whens, hows and how much of the actual vaccination process of millions of citizens. And the budget, of course, not only for the purchase but for the entire operation that will last a couple of years perhaps, even while another variant of the various is rearing its ugly head. (Another vaccine for it?)

The Presidential Security Group was able to get away with contraband vaccines and administered these to themselves without explaining the where, when, how and what. Their leader only gave the why—to protect their Commander-in-Chief who promptly justified their illegal deed.

Yet those trying to do their part with transparency for this ailing nation—what is there to hide anyway—are prevented from doing their part.

“A vaccine monopoly” is how the questioning senators call it. Everything has to be centralized. Does this mean that the well-intentioned LGUs and private sectors cannot and should now cancel their orders?

The cities of Makati, Valenzuela, San Juan, Las Pinas, Taguig, Muntinlupa and Manila have placed their orders with the UK pharma AstraZeneca even while the Food and Drug Administration officials were concerned about inequitable distribution that might favor wealthier local governments. This would be the case if the vaccines would be in short supply. For now it looks like unahan lang, first come (with the cash), first served. But I would like to hope that there will be enough for all, with the vulnerable and underprivileged first in the queue.

The explanations at the hearing—the EUA (emergency use authorization) conditions, approval from the FDA, Big Pharma directly dealing only with national governments—all seem surmountable, solvable.  Kinks that can be ironed out with the vaccine suppliers. In fact we have yet to hear from the suppliers. What is it like from their end? It seems it is our government that puts the obstacles where there should be none.

Vaccinations are now going on in Singapore, our neighbor. What was their procurement and payment process like? We might be able to learn a thing or two.

Small, online surveys on people’s willingness to be vaccinated yielded mostly yes responses, with “as long as” and “except” clauses added.  That is, no to vaccines manufactured in China—where the coronavirus is believed to have originated. One either thinks that the Chinese would therefore be the ablest in finding a vaccine for something that originated in their midst or one would think otherwise. Science detectives have yet to determine how the coronavirus was spawned. Filipinos generally distrust China because of its intrusion into Philippine territory and other notorieties.

No “conform-or-COVID” threats, please. One should be allowed to pay, if one must, for a preferred vaccine brand for oneself.

With President Duterte continually showing unabashed amorousness for China despite its hegemonic tendencies, one is not far off in suspecting that the vaccine from China might get preferential treatment from the Duterte administration.  Is Sinovac’s global roll-out out to steal the thunder from other Big Pharmas?  What sweetheart deals might be employed?

More than once has Mr. Duterte hailed with moist eyes the made-in-China vaccine. One can bet that it would be Mr. Duterte’s preferred vaccine for himself, a token of his allegiance.